More support for Tai Chi

Obviously, we don't need yet another reason to practice Taijiquan!  But it's nice to be backed up on the "it's just plain good for you" idea! 

Durham T'ai chi classes

Thanks to Gary Forbach, who sent this article our way.

Tai Chi May Help Prevent Falls

Practicing tai chi helps older people improve their balance and avoid falls, a review of studies has found.

Tai chi is a form of Chinese martial arts now practiced as exercise. It involves a specific program of graceful movements, accompanied by deep breathing and mental focus, that slowly move the center of balance from one leg to the other.

Researchers found 10 randomized trials analyzing the effect of tai chi on the incidence of falls or the time until an elderly person first has a fall. All studies compared tai chi to usual care or other treatments like physical therapy, stretching or exercise.

Stances! Trivia time


Quiz time - how many of these can you name?  Can you name them in Chinese and English?  

Better yet - how many do you practice and do you know how to 'measure' them or make sure your feet are in the right spots?

Prove your vast knowledge - click on comments :-)

Bonus question:  Which one does LaoMa use in stance drill that isn't shown here.

Raise in Rank - Desiree Goldman

red sash ceremony Desiree Goldman

We are so happy to have Desiree join our group of Senior Students!  

Desiree started studying with LaoMa several years ago.  She knew herself well enough to tuck the knowledge and skills of taiji in her back pocket and focus on her hard style martial arts study.  After a few years putting the smack down on others, Desiree returned to our small group in November 2013 and continued her taijiquan studies.

tai chi push Desiree Goldman

On May 15th, 2017, she successfully tested in her regular Monday night class in Durham for her Senior Sash!  The entire form was well executed and all in order!  As we all know, her true study begins now.  

This is just the start of the really fun part of taijiquan and we are happy to have Desiree join our ranks with her knowledge and focus!

Congratulations Desiree Goldman!

taiji red sash award Desiree Goldman

MMA vs. Taiji Master?

For those of you not on Facebook or without a feed full of taiji videos, this short video has been making the rounds.  It's very short - 10 second fight!  

"A (short) video has gone viral on Chinese social media today showing a "fight" between a mixed martial artist and a Tai Chi "master." (

Take a moment and share your thoughts through the comments link below.  

Eight Gates Above!

Shŏu è bāguà, jiăo tà wǔxíng. (手 扼 八卦, 腳 踏 五行)
The hands move through the eight trigrams, the feet walk the five elements.


We say this so much, we can practically say it in our sleep!  But how well do you know the eight gates?  Can you think of examples from your forms?  

As we've said before, definitions of the eight gates and their execution is something that is commented on over and over.  Sometimes people agree, other times they argue over who is right!

Regardless of where you stand in this particular fight, you can always learn something by watching others.  Here's a brief video demonstrating the eight gates.  While it's not in English, it is in a language we should be able to understand - taijiquan!!  So, take a moment and look at the examples given here.  What do you see?  Do you see taiji principles?  Are there any reflections of these in your form?  How can you see these gates done differently?

Asociacion de Wushu & TaiChi LONGHUQUAN - ARGENTINA
March 21, 2016 · 
The 13 postures are the foundation of Taijiquan.
These 13 postures were derived from the Eight Trigrams (the first 8 postures - energies) commonly known as "bamen wubu" (八门五步) plus the Five Elements (the last 5 postures - steps). The 13 postures are:
1. Peng (ward-off)
2. Lu (roll-back)
3. Chi (press)
4. An (push)
5. Tsai (pull-down)
6. Lieh (split)
7. Chou (elbow strike)
8. Kao (shoulder strike)
9. Chin (advance)
10. Tui (retreat)
11. Ku (look left)
12. Pan (look right)
13. Ting (center)

Shufa and Women's secret scripts

Women's Shufa

Nüshu is a 19th Century Chinese Script that women in a Jiangyong County used to communicate with each other.  The script is very distinct from the style we are used to seeing, very elegant long lines and is phonetic rather than symbolic.  As with lots of ancient arts, the ability to write and read it is dissappearing.

“Out of the thousands of scripts that are gender-specific to men, here we have one that we know is gender-specific to women,” says Silber, who has been researching Nüshu since 1985. Yi was one of the last remaining writers of Nüshu, a fading script that only women knew how to write and read.

Stemming from the southwestern Hunan Province county of Jiangyong, a small group of women in the 19th and 20th centuries practiced this special script that no man could read or write. The writing system allowed these women to keep autobiographies, write poetry and stories, and communicate with “sworn sisters,” bonds between women who were not biologically related. The tradition of Nüshu is slowly vanishing, but at one time gave the women of Shanjiangxu freedom to express themselves.

Read the full article here.  

Effective Practice revisited

After our last post, one of our students brought a podcast that touches on how our brains learn to our attention.  Bill sent us a link to a Bulletproof episode that contains an interview with Anat Baniel.  She talks about nine steps that can be followed for peak brain and body performance.  

The podcast is longer (about an hour) but the last half may be interesting to taiji practitioners.  She outlines a few of her steps and talks about how they are effective.  Around minute 31, she begins to talk about mindfulness in movement.  Allowing time to observe the body and what it is doing provides time to process and react.  

Variations are also a part of her system.  They allow the brain to work on movements and allow change to happen within an action, slowly and over time.  Changing movements can help you focus on the task at hand because you do things less automatically.

She also talks about slowing movements down to allow the brain to wake up and process. Keeping a slower speed can help the brain process and change the motion in a way that wouldn't be possible at higher speeds.

Reducing force is another step of hers.  She argues that the greater force a movement has, the more force is needed for the practitioner to register the need to change and slows the ability to respond.  

taiji practice_durham NC

While I'm paraphrasing much her her information, it is an interesting conversation that is not about taiji at all.  Baniel works with movement to treat neurological problems and rehabilitate injuries.  Yet, if you listen, you'll hear a great argument for many of the basic practices in taijiquan!  

(I would suggest picking it up around minute 31 if you want to take the time! :-)

Thanks Bill!!!  We're happy to find new things through our students and our conversations on here!


Effective Practice

Knowing how to practice and what to practice is really important in advancing any skill you are trying to learn. An interesting TED Ed video, forwarded by one of our students (thanks!!), has some great points to consider while constructing your practice for any skill.  

You'll notice a little taiji thrown into this.  Can you pick out taiji's favorite advice in this list?  

All of these apply to our practice!  Tells us what helps your practice or how this might influence your habits moving forward.

How To Practice Effectively, According To Science

Practice is a physical activity, of course, but it's also hard mental work — if you're doing it right. A new video published by TED Ed gets down to the scientific nitty-gritty of what good practice looks like, and what it does to your brain. (Think axons and myelin, not "muscle memory" — muscles don't have "memory.")
As Annie Bosler and Don Greene, the creators of this TED Ed lesson, point out, this advice can apply to everything from music to sports. They define effective practice as "consistent, intensely focused and target[ing] content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one's current abilities." That's another way of saying: Don't waste your time practicing the stuff you already know, just to fill up those minutes.
More of their specific advice, with each point bolstered by research:

Read more here:

Movement practice to create change


It seems this year is a time to talk of change!  The new year brought the typical new year resolutions but, for some, it also brought a mindset towards enacting change in wider communities.  Some movements for change involve using various physical movement practices to help enact and create change in ever widening pools of interaction.  There are examples of techniques like this being used for physically empowering women and children, bringing communities into harmony with each other, and building teamwork. 

One specific example of this is the "Move to End Violence" group.  Norma Wong has a discussion of their stance and physical practice here: 

Practices such as this provide a window into exploring how your practice of taijiquan influences not only your physical life but also your mental reaction and experience of life and the experiences around you.  

Possible thoughts to explore, discuss and consider?

  • How does connection with breath affect your taiji practice?  Do you use the focus on that breath to center you mind in other places in your life?
  • How does practicing a relaxed yet alert physical state influence your physical presence through the rest of your day?  Can you feel any influence of the alert relaxation in your mental reactions to situations around you?
  • Does practicing slow deliberate movement forward, back, left and right help you be more agile in your daily movements?  Do you find yourself more willing to explore different directions in your view of the world around you?

All or none of these things may apply to you and your practice!  What other things do you feel influenced by your practice.  Do you feel the outside changing the inside?  

How has your practice changed you?  Is it stronger legs?  Better balance?  A relaxed, amused approach to the jerk down the hall? Join us in the discussion by posting a comment below!

Taijiquan and Shufa are Brothers

Taiji practitioners often wonder why they should practice the art of Shufa.  This video provides a great visual exploration of the interaction of these two art forms and will let you see how they play complement each other.  This is a longer video so I would suggest you watch the first bit and then pick it back up around the 3:45 minute mark.

While this is mostly performance art, you can see the influence of each art from in the other.  In the first part, you will see his physical interpretation of the characters on the wall behind him.  Each character is created through a combination of building blocks that are strung together to create a fluid and balanced character.  These building blocks, called 'strokes', are created by using a combination of pressure between the brush and the paper and whole arm and body movements that control the brush.  He generally interprets the long strokes with sweeping taiji movements.  You can see the pressure points and dots expressed as "fa" or sudden movement.

Starting around the 3:45 minute mark, you can see him use taiji movements to control brushes and create characters on a large piece of paper.  He uses a larger brush (about mop size) and a smaller brush on the end of a long pole.  If you visualize a sword or other weapon, you can easily see how having a good command of using whole body to manipulate an object can be helpful.  Being finely attuned to applying various degrees of pressure with your whole body is particularly valuable.

What do you see in his movements and his control over his brush in the second half?  Can you see the fluidity and balance of the strokes reflected in his movements?  Does it help you envision the movement of the brush that was used to create the characters you see on the walls?

Inspiration - Low

While we focus primarily on our training with taijiquan forms, we can draw inspiration from everywhere in the martial arts community.  In all forms, stance work is a primary piece of the puzzle and leg strength can be a big part of that training.

Primarily, we see taijiquan performed in relatively high stances.  However, as a student progress in their studies, they may train lower, being sure not to compromise their structure or form.  Working lower will give you increased leg strength and stamina.  

What do you see happening in this video?  Does it inspire a new focus in your own practice?

Celebrating the Fire Chicken Year - 2017!

Everyone gathered this new year to celebrate the arrival of the Fire Chicken Year!  It was done in high style (as always).  Black Bamboo Pavilion co-hosted the event with Magic Tortoise.  Students, friend and family were treated to a wide variety of demos and tasty treats. 

New Rank for the New Year

Wanda Neu is our newest Red Sash Senior!!  She completed the form on Dec 26th with a small but heavy hitting audience!  Even though she completed the form quickly (typical for new seniors!) she completed every posture and had every count!  Every count in each posture is an extremely difficult thing for all of us to remember and rare for a new red sash.  Wanda is a great example to the rest of us!

Wanda has every right to be as proud of her accomplishment as we are and as proud as her husband is - as you can see!!  

Congrats Wanda.  We look forward to many more years of refining our form together! 

Another Internal Martial Art

LaoMa’s experience with Wing chun go back to VA beach with a teacher who today is a teacher of other teachers or masters, Duncan Leong.  LaoMa's experience with Duncan and “Doc” Savage, who was a student both LM and Duncan,  was similar to what you see in this video.  Wing chun is a more internal art than a hard style art. 

The accompaniment has some thoughts from Bruce Lee in it.

What do you see in this compilation of applications?  Do you see similarities to taijiquan?

Taijiquan Center Stage

The Chinese culture is very rich and varied.  Many arts inform other arts - inspiring new interpretations and ideas across the spectrum.  Chinese theater has a history of including and drawing from the martial arts.

Here is a new (to us!) perspective on taijiquan.  Anything is worth a minute to consider. While this centers on Chen style taijiquan, all taiji shares movement principles so it's of interest to all. Take a second to share your thoughts and comments below!  

Scott Park Phillips explains the cultural history of Tai Chi (Taijiquan). This is the first in the CRACKING THE CODE series: "Taijiquan as Enlightenment Theater." Presented at the 9th International Conference on Daoist Studies, forthcoming as an essay in Daoism and the Military, from Three Pines Press.

Raise in Rank: John Rhodes

Join us in celebrating a new Senior Student to the Black Bamboo Pavilion Taijiquan School!!

John Rhodes raised his rank on Thursday this week! 

John has trained diligently for 4 years (joining us in Oct 2012).  Although he completed the whole form in a little over three years, he took some time to solidify the entire form in his memory before testing. Wudangshan 108 is a taijiquan form that really consists of 154 postures spread over 6 sections which a seasoned practioner usually does in just over 45 minutes.  John completed in 35 minutes and is now considered to be at the beginning of his training.  John has supplemented empty hand form classes with the push hands class and the weapons class, giving him time to work on function, applications and fundamentals in different settings.  He will not continue the never ending task of refining the form by getting corrections, exploring function and endless rounds of repetition!!

As Master Jou says – John will start to fill the empty shoe box!! 

Congratulations to our taiji brother John!

Hidden Taiji Applications

We've heard many different ways that taiji stealthily sneaks into daily life and improves function and movement of many practitioners in a surprising way.  Swimming, golf swings and ballroom dancing all manage to improve a bit with some applied taiji principles!  Now we can add paddling a canoe to this list!  Lynn Wright, a weapons student and long time student in the Magic Tortoise School, has brought this article to our attention.  

When you apply to waist as the driving force to movements, the arms have to work less and the movements become more powerful!  Where do you see and feel your taiji in your daily life?

T'ai Chi for Paddling

Paddling is all about putting that paddle, single- or double-bladed, into the water and touring, surfing, playing, and having a good time. T’ai Chi is a Chinese martial art performed very slowly on land. So what could one have to do with the other?

That was my reaction in the mid-1980s, when I started studying T’ai Chi. To my way of thinking then, my whitewater paddling and T’ai Chi were separate. As the years have passed, I have redefined each and at times wonder whether I am doing T’ai Chi in my boat while paddling or paddling while doing T’ai Chi on land.


Why Should You Study a Tai Chi Weapon?

Most taiji students come to taiji to learn an empty hand form.  This teaches the student the basic principles of movement in taiji without worrying about moving other objects or outside forces.  Empty hand form provides a lot of space for the mind to concentrate on each aspect of the body including the correct timing of body parts moving together, relaxation in the mind and body, and correct stances and body alignment.

After learning a long empty hand form, a student may want to pick up one or more weapons forms as a way to expand your movement vocabulary and work on core taiji principles. 

Weapons forms are typically a lot shorter than the long open hand forms, giving a student the option to practice a full form when they have less time.  Also these forms are frequently done at a faster speed than open-hand forms and allow one to test their taiji principles at a slightly higher pace, while simultaneously challenging them to manipulate an outside object with their whole body. 

Each weapon form tends to focus on techniques and applications specific to that weapon.  For example, a two edged sword (or jian) focuses on cutting and stabbing using light agile motions, while a dao form is uses larger whole body hacking and other powerful motions.  Different forms will challenge a student by moving in and out of high one legged postures and low stances fluidly.  A practitioner develops the ability to move with an agile quickness while focusing on weapon’s direction and application. 

Wielding a weapon help develop wrist and upper body strength and, simultaneously, provide an obvious place to explore differing substantial from insubstantial in the upper body.  After learning the choreographic set of a form, a student can begin to focus on both the weapon wielding hand as well as the empty hand.

As a student continues to practice, the open hand form and the weapon forms will continue to feed each other with growth.  Enhanced concentration on using the whole body to manipulate a weapon will increase this skill in empty hand forms; and the slow steady practice of the empty hand form feeds the ability to maintain taiji principles while performing the faster weapons forms.


Additionally, handling a weapon allows a student to explore manipulating objects with their whole body and directing energy outside of the body and through another entity.  Practicing manipulating an inert object makes one focus on something in addition to their own bodies while they complete movements using taiji principles.  This can help a student prepare for push hands drills because they become used to training their taiji principles with something other than themselves.  Practice with a ‘split focus’ can be helpful when encountering a person that will respond!

And one should not forget, perhaps the most obvious advantage of learning a weapon form is developing a level of comfort wielding an object such as a walking stick or umbrella!  While you might not be able to use the actual form and techniques it helps if your body does not find waving a stick around to be a foreign feeling!

Weapons BBP teaches several weapons.  Short videos can be found through the following links. StickCaneDao (Knife)Jian (Sword)FanBian (Imperial Teacher's Whip)

All forms offered during the Wednesday night class, Saturday workshops or through private lessons upon request.